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No Wheels Allowed in Design Competition

Autonomous student-designed robots will battle it out on May 17

A robot competes in the 2013 Design Competition.

Eight autonomous robots will walk to success Saturday, May 17, as their student designers compete at the 23rd annual Design Competition. What happens during the challenge each year is usually pretty unpredictable. But during this year’s event, one thing is certain: there will be no wheels.

Free and open to the public, “Walking Robots” will start at noon at the Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center, 2133 Sheridan Road, on the Evanston campus.

“Our mechanical engineering students complained that the mechanical component of building the robots was too easy,” says Nick Marchuk, lecturer in mechanical engineering and coordinator of the competition. “So I decided to make it really hard by taking away the wheels.”

Marchuk was inspired by a children’s toy called the Hexbug, which is a spider-like, walking robot with two motors. One motor controls forward and backward movement; the other controls turning. Teams of three undergraduates from a variety of engineering fields have spent six months designing, building, and programming their robots.

According to Marchuk, some teams are borrowing the Hexbug’s two-motor approach, but others are assigning a motor to each leg for more complex movement.

Robots will compete in two preliminary rounds before the May 17 finale. In the first event, each robot will take a timed, one-lap walk around the rectangular arena. In the second event, the robots are required to navigate a maze. Performance in the preliminaries determines the standings going into the final, during which robots compete one-on-one, attempting to pick up ping-pong balls in the arena and return them to a goal.

The event is expected to last three hours, concluding with an awards ceremony. Cash prizes will be awarded to the top three teams, with first place receiving $1,000. One team will also be honored with the annual Myke Minbiole Elegant Engineering Award, which is named for McCormick alumnus Minbiole who worked as an engineer until being killed in a hit-and-run collision in April 2007. The Minbiole family will present the $500 award.